Do you spend hours thinking of how to exact revenge on someone that hurt you? Are you a person that has a tendency to hold grudges? Are you one of those people that will do anything to avoid relationship drama — even letting go of good relationships over a small slight? Are you reliving the hurt or pain every time you think about the person who hurt or wronged you. Maybe the time has come to re-evaluate how to handle the people that have hurt you. Have you contemplated forgiving?
My understanding of forgiveness was very limited. For many years I was under the impression that forgiveness could only be possible if the person who had wronged you, gave a sincere apology to you, and said they wouldn’t do it again and meant it. Most times, this scenario never came to fruition. So no forgiveness was given. I also believed that forgiving someone meant giving up my own standards or principles. At the same time, I also held grudges. When I felt wronged by someone, I didn’t want to forget what the person did and would relive how that person wronged me, hurt me. Because I couldn’t see past the negative incident(s), oftentimes relationships were lost. I would stop contact with the person and did not respond if the person contacted me. I didn’t give people second chances because I was afraid that person would hurt or let me down again. I believed once trust was lost, it couldn’t be re-instilled again.
Recently, through the encouragement of a dear friend, I became more open to the idea of forgiveness. Not only forgiving someone, but in asking forgiveness.
Last Friday, I woke up unusually early. Not wanting to disturb my husband who was fast-asleep next to me, I decided to watch YouTube videos through my headphones in bed. One of the videos I watched was on the topic of forgiveness put out by Prager University. I immediately took to the video because it didn’t try to appeal to my emotions, nor did it persist in the view that I had to forgive to make life better. No pressure. It was merely educational (I thought at first).
UCLA psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Marmer broke the big, complex word, “FORGIVENESS” down into 3 categories:
The following is a partial transcript of what Dr. Stephen Marmer says and some of my own commentary. I didn’t want to paraphrase or change the wording because I think the words he chose were precise and the language he used was so powerful.
Exoneration means wiping the slate clean. Restoring a relationship to the full state of innocence it had before the harmful actions took place. There are 3 common situations in which exoneration applies:
1. When you realize the harmful situation was a genuine accident for which no fault can be applied.
2. When the offender is a child or someone who didn’t understand the hurt they were inflicting and toward whom you have loving feelings.
3. When the person who hurt you is truly sorry, takes full responsibility (without excuses), asks for forgiveness ad gives you confidence that they will not knowingly repeat their bad actions in the future.
Somehow, assigning these different levels of forgiveness was a great relief for me. I could in essence “forgive” someone without waiting for them to ask me for their forgiveness! And I wasn’t compromising my own principles of how I want to live my life. Also forgiving someone doesn’t mean you accept what someone did, but rather you’re simply willing to let it go.
It is essential to offer forgiveness in all these circumstances. Not to offer forgiveness in these circumstances would be more harmful to your own well-being. It might even suggest that there is something more wrong with you than the person who caused you pain.
The second type of forgiveness is what Dr. Marmer refers to as FORBEARANCE. Forbearance applies when the offender makes a partial apology, mingles their expression of sorrow with blame that you somehow caused them to behave badly. An apology is offered, but it is not what you had hoped for and may not be authentic. Even when you bear no responsibility, you should exercise forbearance if the relationship matters to you.
Dr Marmer advises that we:
* Cease dwelling on the particular offense.
* Do away with grudges and fantasies of revenge
* But retain a degree of watchfulness. This is similar to forgive and not forget or trust, but verify.
By using forbearance, you are able to maintain ties to people who while far from perfect, are still important to you. Furthermore, after a sufficient period of good behavior, forbearance can rise to the level of exoneration and full forgiveness.
But what do you do when the person who hurt you doesn’t even acknowledge that they did anything wrong? Or gives an obviously insincere apology or makes no reparation whatsoever? These are the cases of forgiveness that are the most challenging. In my practice, I’ve found this in adult survivors of child abuse, business people who’ve been cheated by their partners, or friends or relatives who have betrayed one another. But even here, there is a solution, I call it RELEASE, the third type of solution. Release does not exonerate the offender, nor does it require forbearance. It doesn’t even demand that you continue the relationship. But it does ask that instead of continuing to define your life in terms of the hurt done, you release the bad feelings and preoccupation with the negative things that happened to you.
It is difficult to fathom how much of a burden it is to a person that continually relives a bad experience. This last level of forgiveness was something that never entered my mind.
Decades ago when I attended college, I had a part-time union job. After some time on the job, the union went on strike. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that I would support the strike. I had a fellow co-worker who didn’t join the strike and I simply couldn’t see beyond this decision that she had made. Eventually the strike ended with positive results for the workers. Both the fellow co-worker and I returned to our union jobs. But I wanted to have nothing to do with her after the strike and I only spoke to her when my job required it. I thought I was abiding by a principle. In retrospect, I should have exercised release. Not because I liked the person or wanted to continue the casual office relationship. I think for my own sake, it just would have been better. I didn’t know this woman’s situation. Who knows? Maybe she needed this job desperately to support a family. There could have been any number of reasons why she didn’t strike. She was someone very peripheral in my life decades ago. Why is it that I still remember her now? I’m thinking there was a burden in my heart all these years because I relived the wrong. She didn’t necessarily wrong me as I wasn’t directly hurt by her not supporting the strike, but I thought I couldn’t associate myself with someone who didn’t have the same principles I did. I admit it was slightly immature.
I could think of many other instances where one bad incident led to a relationship “breakup”. I was able to rationalize in my mind that these relationships were not worth the drama. I never realistically evaluated whether the relationships were worth maintaining after a negative incident. How much richer my life could have been if these relationships have been maintained? Although to be honest, maybe I dismissed some people that might have been absolutely poisonous to me. I will never know.
I also had the mistaken view that I would be a weak person to forgive people and let them back into my life. But forgiving someone does not necessarily connote a weakness in character. I am not suggesting that anyone keeps forgiving someone who is toxic, continually hurts you over and over again after apologizing and promising he/she wouldn’t do it again. Each case needs to be evaluated on individual basis, but I’m learning it’s okay to give people second chances. Just keep a watchful eye. As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify”.
Recently, I asked for forgiveness from a friend that I hurt after losing my temper. Up till now, I made excuses in my mind why that behavior was acceptable. I eventually came to the realization that I overreacted in that situation. I admitted my words and actions were hurtful and said I was sorry about how I acted and hurt her in that way, and I then asked that friend for forgiveness. She forgave me. Unfortunately, our friendship is now a repaired dish that had once been broken. The marks are still there in the places where the pieces broke. It is possible that our friendship may never completely heal because of the trauma I caused to the relationship.
After reflection, I’m grateful to God for enabling me to see grays in an area of my life that I only viewed as black and white. I honestly didn’t think the lesson of forgiveness was pertainent me, but thankfully the time was ripe and I was open to understanding that I needed to take a second look on how I handled problems in relationships — whether they be little problems or big ones.
Life is short, why not make it sweeter and happier by taking away the hurt and anger? It’s okay to forgive and ask for forgiveness. Easier said than done you say, but just think about it for now. Let that thought stew. And I encourage you to find some quiet time to watch that above Prager University video when you are ready. I hope that you find it to be as powerful and enlightening as I did.
If you have a thought or comment, please leave a note. If you have your own story about forgiveness, whether you forgave or sought forgiveness, please share below in the comments or link to your own blog!